DigitalCulture

This page-in-progress is a place to put reminiscences and links about digital culture and computer-related history.

My first encounter with computers — other than science fiction films and IBM data cards at university registration — came when The Hartford Courant put an editing terminal on my desk in the late 1970s. That inspired me to take a few lunch-hour computer tutorials at Wesleyan University, eventually followed by buying a computer of my own, taking full-length computer science courses (starting with Russ Walter’s Summer Microcomputer Institute), and going to work for a software company in 1984. That is where I belatedly discovered the writings of Ted Nelson, who (around 1965) had coined the word “hypertext” and envisioned many things that have come to pass, and some that haven’t. Yet.

At various conferences, I eventually met Nelson himself, and early hypertext software authors John B. Smith, Michael Joyce, Jay David Bolter and Mark Bernstein.

I returned to Wesleyan for more formal courses, acquired software programs like Guide, Hypercard, Storyspace, BlackMagic, HyperPad and HyperTIES, and visited George Landow and the IRIS project at Brown. Result: A Master of Arts in Liberal Studies final project, “Approaching Hypertext.” It was primarily an attempt to apply cognitive-science models of the writing process to the Guide hypertext editor — sold for a few years by Owl Software and created by the late University of Kent Professor Peter Brown.

Around the same time, I joined online services like CompuServe, BIX, Prodigy, Fidonet and The Well to access computer forums and the Internet — especially its Usenet discussion forums — from home. To put real food on the table, I detoured into writing about boats for a living (while writing freelance software reviews on the side), and kept at that for a few years, until Usenet alt.hypertext announcements about the Web and the Mosaic graphical browser inspired me to go back to grad school again, to see what hypertext and the Web would do to journalism. I picked the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill because of its history with Storyspace (and John B. Smith’s “Writing Environment“), and — especially — its excellent journalism and information science graduate schools.

But that’s enough hyperlinked history from my point of view. Here’s a better source…

If you already know a good deal of computer jargon and have a sense of history, see this series of online lectures by Ted Nelson — located on YouTube and listed on his Computers for Cynics page.

His list requires you to cut and paste links, perhaps because Ted sees the one-way link as an unfortunate aspect of HTML. My version below lets you click on them. (For some reason, embedding the YouTube video players on this page sometimes gives error messages. Clicking is good enough.)

Ted’s vision of “Computer Lib/Dream Machines” and “Literary Machines” (which you can buy from his site) saw what computers and hypertext (his word) could give us. The Web isn’t exactly what he had in mind, and he is very good at explaining why (for example, in his footnotes on this quotation from Tim Berners-Lee).

Computers for Cynics

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